Can wheat become a more ‘statewide’ crop?

Texas A&M AgriLife develops, field tests wheat varieties suitable for different regions

COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M AgriLife experts are hoping to grow greater interest in having agricultural producers plant wheat in some of the more “non-traditional” areas of the state for that particular crop.

Experts say drought, freeze and hail could cause a scramble for wheat seed this fall. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

While wheat has been more traditionally grown in the Panhandle, Rolling Plains and Southern High Plains, more and more is also being grown in the Blacklands, South Central Texas and other areas. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

While wheat is the biggest field crop in Texas in terms of acreage — estimated at about 6 million acres annually by the National Agricultural Statistics Service — it is currently grown mostly in the High Plains and Rolling Plains part of the state.

“There’s a lot of wheat in the Panhandle, Rolling Plains and Southern High Plains, but wheat is an underutilized crop in other parts of the state, and many producers could benefit financially by having it as a primary or rotational crop,” said Dr. Mark Welch, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service economist in College Station.

Additionally, with the severe drought and multiple freezes in the Plains regions, many of the higher yields this past year have come from the Blacklands area and from South Central Texas, Welch said.

Recently, wheat trials at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde were highlighted at its Combined Wheat and Vegetable Field Day, which introduced area producers to multiple varieties of spring and winter wheat grown using different irrigation rates.

And there is also good potential for wheat production in coastal areas of the state and as far south as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Welch noted.

Dr. Amir Ibrahim, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeder in College Station, is one of the Texas A&M AgriLife  people working on field testing of different wheat varieties in Texas. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo)

Dr. Amir Ibrahim, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeder in College Station, is one of the Texas A&M AgriLife faculty and staff field testing different wheat varieties in what are about 30 field trials annually throughout Texas. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Dr. Amir Ibrahim, Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeder in College Station, indicated that Texas A&M AgriLife spring wheat breeding efforts have been revamped to address the needs of South Texas, as well as the Winter Garden area west of San Antonio.

Ibrahim said the Uvalde area provides a unique environment for testing both winter and spring wheat.

“This area is characterized not only by heat and drought stresses, but also fungal disease pressure, particularly leaf rust, where the disease inoculum can survive the winter,” he said. “Although winter wheat does very well in this area, especially under supplementary irrigation conditions when needed, spring wheat can also provide an alternative.”

Unlike some other major Texas field crops, wheat has the flexibility of being used as either a forage or grain crop, Welch said.

“And in many areas of the state, there’s a lot of potential for rotating wheat with canola as a winter crop. Of course, choosing to plant wheat has a lot to do with the variety and the potential for that wheat to provide a good yield and quality.”

“There is much more wheat planted around the Winter Garden area showing there is greater potential for it in this region as an alternative crop and as part of a rotational crop for cropping systems ,” said Dr. Daniel Leskovar, resident director for the center. “We hope center research on wheat will help producers increase profitability through improved cultivars that use less water, require fewer chemical inputs, provide good yields and produce a quality product.”

He said investigating genetics, along with environmental and crop management-related factors, provides a holistic approach to cropping system management for water conservation and how to cope with environmental stresses. Producing drought-tolerant crops, and developing better irrigation technology and practices is key for producers in the Winter Garden region.

During the field day, Dr. Rob Hogan, AgriLife Extension regional economist in Uvalde, said the Climate Prediction Center has elevated the prediction of an El Nino event to a 65 percent probability, which makes for a favorable forecast for Texas wheat production in 2015.

“It looks like near-term prospects are very good for Texas wheat, so producers here and in other parts of the state should probably be putting a pencil to it and figuring out what kind of money they might bank from planting wheat,” he said.

A Wheat Field Day focusing on wheat varieties and breeding technologies will be held April 23 at the Texas AgriLife Research and Research Center. (Texas AgriLife Research photo)

The TAM Wheat improvement Team develops and tests wheat varieties to determine which will grow the bast in different parts of the state. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Wheat breeding efforts by the TAM Wheat Improvement Team, comprised of members from AgriLife Research, AgriLife Extension and the Texas Foundation Seed Service, are ongoing in the development improved varieties.

To determine which wheat varieties will fare best in different parts of the state, AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension faculty and staff have been conducting the multi-year Uniform Wheat Variety Trial. Wheat market classes within these trials include hard red winter wheat, soft red winter wheat and hard red spring wheat.

“Typically, there are approximately 30 wheat variety trials conducted across the state each year, and most of these reflect data from multiple years of trials,” said Dr. Clark Neely, AgriLife Extension small grains and oilseed specialist, College Station.

“The results of these uniform trials provide unbiased yield data and disease and insect ratings for wheat producers across the state.”

Using this information, Texas wheat producers can make an educated decision concerning the most appropriate varieties for their geographic region, Neely said.

To see more about wheat variety testing throughout the state, go to: http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/wheat.

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